Sts. Cosmas and Damian the Anagyri
This rather stereotypical phrase is descriptive of a proud parent speaking of the accomplishment of their children. Even today, we express great joy when our sons or daughters reach that lofty position of becoming a physician. The place of doctors has always been one of respect and admiration. Throughout history, the dedication of healers has usually brought prestige, social status as well as financial reward. This is true today and it was true in antiquity. This brings us to a series of saint-brothers who shared their given names and were all physicians. The brothers commemorated November 1st. are the first in this remarkable grouping. We have become familiar with their stories. As Christians, they shared the conviction that the gifts which God had given them and which they had nurtured through study and hard work should be given back to those whom they served. Physicians who served and asked nothing in return, but why? First and foremost, these men were raised in an environment which allowed them to put their gifts and abilities realistically. Their upbringing allowed them to look at their talents as “on-loan” from God. Each of us are given gifts to nourish and develop; most do this wither it is by education or practice or both. What many of us forget, in the process, is the source of our gifts. These three pairs of brothers knew that God had given them their gifts, the development of these gifts was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and most importantly, the use of them was directed by Christ and His message of Love.
The greatest gift all these doctors have shared with us is not the gift of healing, as profound as it is, nor the example of giving as admirable as we know it to be; but the lesson of perspective. They knew the source of all gifts and thanked God by developing them and offering them back to God through His people. What are your gifts? What are you doing with them? How do you look upon them: as your right or the gift of a generous God?
The Cup of Faith
During the Divine Liturgy we are called to partake of Christ with the “Fear of God, Faith and Love… ” The fear of God is not the type of fear that means we are petrified and so terrified of God that we quake and live in horror; instead this “fear” is awe, reverence and veneration. We know the holiness of God as Trinity and our separation from Him caused by our own sinfulness. This awe requires us to look at ourselves honestly and to understand the great gulf between us and Our Lord. But, there is more to the invitation to the Chalice than fear. There are two more phrases that we need to consider.
With faith! How can we approach God without faith? We understand the great gulf between us, but faith can overcome this separation. Faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord becoming one of us; truly God and truly Man. His love for His Creation is so great that He put on our humanity through the Theotokos by the Holy Spirit to allow us to relate to Him. He assumed our nature to decrease the separation between us. This mystery is beyond our understanding. The result of His love for us is to lessen the “fear” we have for Him. How can we fear one of our own? Can we live in dread of someone who is there waiting for us to reach out so that His strength supports us in our weakness? With faith, we are certain that he is the gentle shepherd who will search us out when we’re lost and carry us on His shoulders when we’re too tired to walk to Him. This faith is a faith in God’s love for us. This faith is an assurance of Christ’s continued presence among us, His People.
When we realise Christ is there in the Chalice waiting for us, there is only one response – Love. Love for God, a burning desire for Him to be the centre of our life. By the invitation of the Church, we are called to partake and become one with Him. Not only are we summoned to join with Christ, but also to become one with all who share in this Cup. This is true love, to become part of each other. Christ became one of us and shared our nature because of His love. By sharing Him, we share each other. It is a miracle of His love that we enter into an intimate relationship with each other as a community. As we partake of Holy Communion “with the fear of God, Faith and Love,” not only do we draw near to Christ; but equally to each other. The closeness of this bond is the unity that makes us the Body of Christ with one head – Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Answer the invitation! Let us meet Christ and each other at His Cup of Love.
LORD, SAVE ME !
What do you do when you lose faith? How do we move from that abstract question to the reality of life? Frankly, I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I am full of questions, many of which don’t have easy solutions. There is a distance between God and us that at times seems to grow even further. Yet, we are assured God is always available, awaiting us. It would seem, we’re the ones who move away from God. For me this is very problematic. When life deals you difficulties; whether illness, the death of a loved one or as in my case unemployment your faith is tested and you don’t know why. The Church tells us we should trust in God and surrender to His will. For me this is very hard. Trust is one thing, but knowing His will for your life is sometimes very confusing. We are told not to fear, this is extremely hard to do when your life seems to be in such turmoil and you make choices that appear to be the correct ones only to turn out poorly. How do we know God’s will for our life? There are so many examples of faith in the scriptures, but how do we get from doubt to certainty. One of my problems is that I can relate to the theoretical, I can quote chapter and verse and I usually know the right things to say. But, the application to life, is a struggle. Like most of us, I want to have faith and to be confident in that faith. Why to we question our own heart and create such a turmoil in our spirit? Seeking God is our natural state, yet we make it so hard. I try to find answers for these questions in Scriptures or in the Lives of the Saints. As I mull over these thoughts, I am sure that I am not the only person to have asked these questions. As I have tried to search out a path, I have found that the Church talks of two types of faith. The first is based on knowledge, understanding and leads to quiet and complete trust in God. This level of faith is the higher faith for which we all yearn. Perhaps, the first step of faith is realising that we all question. I believe that prayer is a powerful weapon, so I ask for your prayers. I will pray that God strengthens our faith and gives us insight and understanding which leads to an unshakeable faith.
Lord Jesus Christ Son of God Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.
The Servant of God
“Faith is a dialogue, but the voice of God is almost silent. It exerts a pressure that is infinitely delicate and never irresistible. God does not give orders He issues invitations.” This beautiful quote is taken from a lovely book by Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life. This is a thought provoking statement, which really should be considered in these thoughts about faith. We have spoken about teaching faith to children and learning faith from our elderly. But, what is faith? The beginning phrase “faith is a dialogue” is at once a simple yet complex idea. With whom do we dialogue? What can we say? How does God answer our questions about faith? As Christ tells us in the book of the Apocalypse (Revelation) 3, 20:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock;
if anyone hears my voice and opens
the door, I will come to him and eat with
him, and he with me.
Isn’t this quite an invitation? Christ is waiting for us. His response to our faith is assured. So like a child whose first steps are tentative, our first faith steps may be shaky. God is there waiting for us no matter how weak our faith. He has promised us that if we reach out, as did St. Peter, he will grab us by the hand. The invitation from Christ is offered more often than we realise. At each Divine Liturgy we are issued an invitation. The call to the Chalice allows us to reaffirm our Baptism. It is our adult response to eat with Christ and to partake of him. Our God stands in waiting. No matter how far we have wandered or how long it has been. The invitation is prepared and personal. Our faith is not an exercise by which we test God, but rather an opportunity to engage God in our life. Faith depends on our attitude. Do we realise that we have move away from God? Is there faith, however weak? More importantly, do we love God? Our invitation awaits us. The invitation reads:
With the fear of God, with Faith and Love
Sts. Boris and Gleb
Beloved Saints of the Russian Peoples
Greetings in the Lord !
I wish to thank my readers in the Orthodox Lands of Russia and all Orthodox Slavic Countries. You are appreciated, loved and I continue to pray for you. I read all your comments, but I must depend on a translating software by Apple to translate them. Regrettably, I do not speak Russian. All comments are screened. I approve those which can be translated. I will spam all improper or lewd comments, but will try my best to translate, read and approve all of them; even the critical ones. I will answer all questions that are proper.
May God strengthen Orthodoxy and your faith journey. Thank you for visiting my site. вы и Бог благословляет!
…with Faith and Love
Teach Your Children Well
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
I saw this beautiful photograph and immediately thought of this song from my youth by Crosby Stills and Nash. Now that I am a grandfather, the sentiment means so much more to me than it did in the sixties. The lesson you learn as a clergy man who is privileged to offer the Body and Blood of Our Lord to the faithful is that children show if they have been taught well. How children approach the Holy Chalice says worlds about their first Church, the Church of the Home. I have heard many opinions and arguments concerning frequent communion, but none are as powerful as a child approaching the Holy Cup with love and joy. Please, don’t misunderstand me all of us, even children, will have an off day. Perhaps, they’re tired or restless or it’s just one of those days. But, you can always tell a little one who comes to Church often and receives Christ in their life often. They show the love in their hearts with their eyes.
Teach your children well…All of us parents, grandparents and Godparents should teach well. There are many of us who teach, even if we don’t have children. Yes, we are all on a road and for a short time we carry little ones, until they walk on their own. Instilling a code they can live by is our responsibility. The community of faith is all of us; and we all have a duty to pass on this faith. We live in a world that at best ignores faith. Even worse, it can ridicule and denigrate faith. We cannot teach faith only on a Sunday morning. We must live our faith each day and reflect the love of Christ in our hearts with joy. Carefully answer questions of the young putting Christ first. We have all heard the expression, “We teach by example.” The lyric says: “so become yourself,” becoming your genuine self is living in Christ each day. Do this and with God’s help, you will teach your children well!
Abba Sisoes the Great
On July 6th, the Holy Church commemorates Abba Sisoes the Great. We are so far removed from the desert fathers and mothers, the abbas and ammas, perhaps we should speak a little about these desert dwellers and their lives. Why did they flee from society and what was the call of these wilderness places? Names like Anthony, Arsenios, Pambo, Syncletica, and Macarios evoke a life of self denial and hardship. Places like Nitria, Rhaithou, Scetis and Eleutheropoulos as well as other isolated locales sound strange and distant. Nonetheless, they are part of our Orthodox identity and Tradition. These men and women sought to “follow Christ” and renounced a life in the world. They had as their model St. John the Forerunner and took to heart the call to Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! They sought to be like angels, to confront evil face to face and to constantly praise and glorify God. Most were lay persons and many were uneducated simple peasants. They saw themselves as sinners, tried to know themselves and to treat all with love and humility. Many came to listen to their counsel even though they sought solitude. Their short sayings have come down to us as beacons of spiritual light. These short sayings are available in books like The Philokalia, The Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and other works. Modern scholars like Fr. John Chryssavgis, Benedicta Ward and Dermas Chitty and many more have made their words accessible. Today, we can sit at their feet for a few minutes as did the pilgrims who travelled to deserted places. We too can benefit from their wisdom. In our age of cult celebrity and “me first” attitudes; don’t the words of spiritual guides such as Sisoes the Great echo in our hearts. In the early fifth century on Anthony’s Mountain, a monk asked Sisoes: “How can I attain humility?” The saint replied: “When a person learns to see themselves as inferior to all creatures, with that he attains humility.” (Ward, Benedicta, ed. 1984. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Revised ed. Kalamazoo MI: Cistercian Publications, p. 214.) The Venerable Sisoes the Great fell asleep in the Lord in 429 AD.
Apolytikion of the Venerable Sisoes the Great
“You proved to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonder-worker, O Sisoes, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer obtained heavenly gifts, and you healed the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that has given you strength. Glory to him that has crowned you. Glory to Him that works healings for all through you.”
Holy Abba Sisoes: Pray for us sinners.
Taking Down from The Cross
Last week, I was asked about the Orthodox Church’s views of cremation. News from Greece is that there is a push to authorize cremation. The real story is that the push is coming from the secular government and it is being opposed by the Church. The teaching of the Church is clear, cremation is not allowed. We hear the argument that it is more economical and that the environment will be helped. These are just excuses. It is true that in Japan, where the state mandates cremation, the Church reluctantly has to accept the practice. But, it happens after the funeral service has taken place, with the body in the Church.
What is the theology of the Church’s teaching? The mystery of death has many facets, not the least being the attitude concerning the body. The earliest and most vital aspect of this teaching is the story of creation itself. Genesis 1, 26 clearly teaches that humanity is made in the “image and likeness of God.” This creation is not only our spirit, but our physical body as well. Christ with His Incarnation assumed our physical body. St. Gregory the Theologian states in his first letter to Cledonios: “The unassumed is unhealed, but that which is united with God is also being saved.” We also read in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. ” The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1, 14) At the Resurrection and again at the Ascension, we believe that the Glorified Body of the Lord rose and ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father. With this act of salvation our body is united to Christ. The Church teaches at the Second Coming our Glorified bodies will rise to meet the Lord.
We read in Genesis 3, 19, “…till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The Holy Church believes that we are holistic creatures and that our bodies should be allowed to decay naturally. Respect for the natural order is strongly upheld in the Church’s teachings. The question comes to mind, what about times when out bodies are burned or lost at sea, or blown up? These are not wilful acts. Cremation is the choice of humans and intervenes in the natural order, because it is the direction of our will not God’s. St. Paul teaches ” Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6, 19 – 20). Our bodies are anointed with the Holy Spirit at Chrismation and are Spirit filled! They belong to God.
It is the Orthodox doctrine that to consider the material world sinful is wrong. We believe that the material world can be sanctified by God’s grace. The Holy Spirit consecrates wine and bread into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church sanctifies water, wheat, oil, food and our bodies. The witness of the saints is a convincing illustration of this glorification of the body. Many saints’ bodies, after their falling asleep in the Lord, do not corrupt. Their bodies testify to their glorification by God in Christ and His victory over death. The holy relics of the saints become Spirit bearing and many miracles are associated with them. Our consecrated temples, altars and antimensia contain relics of the saints. Additionally, the reverence given to Christ’s body at the Crucifixion by St. Joseph, St. Nicodemus and the Myrrh-bearing Women is a prime example of the reverence we Orthodox have for the body. The hymns and services of the Holy Passion are replete with references to the body and the respect which the Church affords it. The act of cremation is a violation against the body and is not allowed by the Church. Your questions can be asked by E- mailing me. Thank you.
Today is the feast day of Sts. Constantine and Eleni. I was thinking about the event that we relate with St. Eleni (I like this better than Helen). St. Eleni is remembered for not only being the mother of the Emperor Constantine, but in British folklore she is thought to be the spouse of “Old King Cole.” That’s right the same King Cole as in the nursery rhyme. Well, that shows you how much useless dribble fills my mind. Back to the subject at hand, we remember St. Eleni because her search for and discovery of The True Cross of Christ.
The True Cross
We all know the account of her discovering a mound with sweet basil growing among the weeds and stones of Golgotha, digging and uncovering several old crosses. Subsequently, to determine the True Life-giving Cross from the crosses of the thieves she had a corpse placed on the wood. The dead person was brought back to life when he was placed on the True Cross. The recounting of this tale caused me to ponder a very significant point. It occurred to me that at one time or another in our life’s journey we all lose faith. Perhaps, it is a great disappointment, or the death of someone we love, an illness, depression or a myriad of other reasons. We just lose it. If we are fortunate to find our way again, either by struggle, the help of a friend, time’s healing passage or by the guidance of a spiritual guide, then we are faced with an ultimate decision. Now that I found it what do I do with it? St. Eleni can be a guide to our future action. What did she do? What she didn’t do was sit back on her laurels and just take the “applause” of the assembled throngs, the people and her son. She did what we all should do! She put her faith into action. She built churches all over the Holy Lands. What can we do when we discover or rediscover our faith? When we join Christ and His Body as a result of our embracing the faith or returning to the fold, our ultimate choice is what to do now. The example of St. Eleni is – do something with your faith. Let it light a fire in our heart and inspire us to put our faith to work. Feed the hungry, teach the uninformed, visit the sick, help the helpless, comfort the downhearted, be there for someone, reach out and encourage the timid. The bottom-line is to become Christ to someone and make your faith a living faith!